Success Stories in Environmental Health

Family walking down sidewalk

Learn more about how CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) protect and promote environmental health across the United States.

Your environment is everything around you—the air you breathe, the water you drink, the places where your food is grown or prepared, your workplace, and your home.

When your environment is safe and healthy, you are more likely to stay healthy. But when your environment exposes you to dangerous events or harmful amounts of toxic substances, your health can be affected. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments.

How can my environment affect my health?

Clean air, clean food, clean soil, clean water.

Where is contamination in the environment? Contaminants can pollute air, water, soil, or food. We sometimes call these “environmental media”.

Environmental contaminants can be carried to humans by air, water, soil, or food.

Here are some examples of the many ways the environment can affect your health:

  • Drinking well water can contain benzene from industrial activities, if near one’s home.
  • Exposure to air pollution can aggravate asthma.
  • Individuals can inhale contaminants when they’re released into the air from contaminated sources, such as a mercury spill in a home or school.
  • Contaminants can accumulate in food sources, such as the tissue of animals, fish eating birds, or contaminated soil where food is grown.
  • People can come into contact with contaminants from natural elements found in rocks and fertilizer and when man-made chemical compounds make their way into the soil.

Also, environmental contamination can disrupt life in an affected community and some residents may experience chronic stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a sister agency to the CDC, are committed to protecting people from harmful environmental exposures.

Each agency works to promote healthy environments,

  • respond to natural and man-made disasters,
  • support environmental and public health professionals,
  • educate communities, and
  • provide scientific knowledge.

How do NCEH and ATSDR work together to promote environmental health?

Humboldt smelter

ATSDR joins EPA, Arizona health and environment agencies and the University of Arizona to educate community members about arsenic and lead exposure from the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Site in Dewey-Humboldt, AZ. Credit: Leah Butler (EPA) via Wikimedia Commons

Although NCEH and ATSDR staff frequently work together on common issues, each has a different focus and different types of activities.

NCEH works to prevent illness, disability, and death from interactions between people and the environment. The center conducts research; tracks health problems related to the environment; and supports local, state, tribal and national health agencies. NCEH also combats illnesses associated with environmental hazards such as air pollution, lead, contaminated food and water, and radiation.

ATSDR focuses on protecting the public from exposures to toxic substances. The agency investigates hazards in communities by collecting and analyzing information on environmental exposures and health. It provides recommendations to communities and industries to limit or prevent exposure to hazardous substances. ATSDR also provides scientific expertise on toxic substances and their effects on health and collects information about people who have the same health condition or disease.

Whatever the activity, NCEH and ATSDR staff members focus on making a real difference in people’s lives. The “Your Health – Your Environment” blog and “Sharing Our Stories” describe our successes in protecting and improving people’s health across the United States. For example, you can learn how NCEH works to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants. Or you can read about ATSDR’s National Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Registry (ALS Registry), the first and only population-based estimate of ALS prevalence and incidence for the United States. Click on the links below to read these stories and more accounts of the work of NCEH and ATSDR. And keep checking back for more news about how these agencies protect people from harm in the environment.

Page last reviewed: June 27, 2022